Good to be Home

Home Sweet Home

I have to say, it is great to be back, even though it is freezing in the house and some drunk guys are knocking ten bails out of each other below on the street.  The last few days in Austria were certainly much better than the first few, and although the journey home was a little eventful (Georgians, shopping, bumped off plane, then allowed back on, etc, etc), I did start to get into the swing of things a little more and was nervous about being back on my own again after being in a group for ten days or so.

Now it is back to reality and a very hectic 6months ahead.  Austria was definitely a transition period for me, particularly in terms of Oceans Project.  I came to Georgia as an individual, but am now a part of a community here, in fact several different communities, and perhaps expectations of me are different now.  I’ve been thinking about my blog quite a lot, and wondering whether to stop posting personal thoughts or feelings or experiences, especially since the Project is so important to me, and I need to maintain a more private life too.


I originally started blogging as I wanted to track my journey and the changes in me as I settled into a new culture and life, and I love to use the blog as a means of processing things.  I never intended to start a project or to even stay in Georgia, and so now I need to decide whether or how to blog in the future, and also the purpose of that. There is no real purpose really, its just a record of my experiences, and I also wanted to be able to share the cultural aspects with other volunteers looking to come to Georgia with TLG, so that they could feel more prepared and transition easier. I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of confidentiality as much as possible, but now I know more people in Georgia and as the project gains more momentum, perhaps I need to be more guarded??

I never plan to write anything disrespectful, nor is that my intention as the blog is more of a document of my own experiences.  When I talk about Georgians, it is not that I am disapproving or criticising them in any way, or saying that their behaviour is wrong.  It is more about getting to understand my own culture and social norms and the differences between the two.  The quirks that nations develop, and I’m curious as to why and how these come about.  As a psychologist, I have always been fascinated by people, and living in a new culture is great for learning more about oneself.  But by talking about ‘Georgians’ it is more a general observation or impression based on my own thoughts or feelings, and isn’t to say that every Georgian is the same, nor that every Brit is like myself, or that I represent or have everything in common with every other Brit. So I hope that my blog is taken for what it is, just a document of my observations of life in a new country, that I am not familiar with.

I always used to think that foreigners were rude, as many Brits probably do, when they see foreigners in Britain, and the foreigners don’t follow our standard social norms.  Like saying please or thank you, smiling, asking how the weather is, or making small talk, or queuing up for things, or waiting your turn. But, living in another country is a great way of understanding that actually foreigners are not rude, they just play by different rules, and Brits are very rigid in terms of social etiquette, even though we make allowances for foreigners.  Likewise, I’m sure it is the same for me here.  I am sure that at times my behaviour has been considered rude, even though I was perhaps unaware of it.

Sally’s Odd At Sea

I’m currently reading a book written by a friend of mine, who has the same Agent as me for film work (Screenlite Agency, based at Pinewood Shepperton Film Studios in the UK), and who has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean twice.  Her name is Sally Kettle and she is fab and very funny.  I think I posted one of her Ted Talks a while back, but just in case you have never come across her on my blog, here is another little video about her:

I had wanted to read Sally’s book ‘Sally’s Odd at Sea’ for ages, but I never had the time unfortunately and over the holidays I’ve been really enjoying it, though I haven’t quite finished it yet.  I miss having reading material, so am trying to make it last! The timing could not be more perfect though and its the perfect remedy to a lot of the issues I am currently faced with.

Sally hadn’t spoken to her mum in years, but they ended up rowing the Atlantic together, becoming the first ever mother and daughter team, which got them a world record, and they also re-established their relationship and discovered that actually they were very similar characters.  When Sally decided to row the Atlantic she had a poorly paid job and her boyfriend Tommo, who has epilepsy was on benefits, they had never rowed before and had a mammoth task of raising the money and training themselves.  They didn’t make it across unfortunately, but the experience turned Sally’s life around, and she ended up rowing across once with her mum, and then as skipper of a girls team.  Sally now undertakes work with a charity called Shelterbox, who she raised money for on her third Atlantic attempt, and she is a very popular public speaker.

Her book is perfect for me right now, because Sally started off as an individual, without experience or a destination as such, just a passion to do something, and now she is almost a household name and is well known in the ocean rowing world.  That is pretty much the situation I am entering now.  Coming to Georgia as an individual, and having created a project which has a lot of publicity and people relying on me, and whose reputations depend on my doing a good job.

I totally relate to Sally’s experiences when she hand-wrote the names of everyone who donated to her Ocean Rowing attempt, and how she felt when her and Tommo had to pull out of the race due to Tommo having a bad seizure early on in their expedition.  When she was lying in the tiny cabin looking up at the names of all the sponsors she felt she was letting down. And I guess that is pretty much where I am at now as I know how important it is that I make a success of the project, not just for myself on a personal level, but because so many people are relying on me.

I’m not phased by this, and I’m not worried about it (yet), and I know that the project will be a success, but I have come to realise recently that in order to succeed, I need to be tougher and more independent, just as Sally as Skipper felt that responsibility to make those decisions, so it is that I now really need to step up on the project, and not try to please everyone or keep everyone happy. The project is an amazing opportunity and is my baby and where my passion lies, yet I’ve been neglecting it to a point, because I’ve been trying to focus on what others expect of me or what others worry about.

So, I’ve made some big decisions over the Austria trip, and now I’m back, on top form, and fired up for a new term.  One where I follow my gut instincts and stick with them, even if others do not understand my decisions or the long term plans.  The Christmas break was entirely a battle for me, as I was getting frustrated at relying on others to commit or do work or to contribute, but I have realised that in order to succeed, I need to be the Leader and do my own thing.

As part of that, I’ve decided to postpone the Land Rover expedition, not because I’m not ready or couldn’t handle it, but because the Team are not yet there, and because I’m the only experienced person on the whole project, and sometimes its easy to think that people are 100% with me and are on the same mission as me. Like Sally’s mission was to ‘win the race’, her team’s missions were to just make it across, and to make it across safely. That creates a certain amount of friction when the chips are down, and I know that I now have to start leading from the front and leading alone, as I’m the only one with that drive to win and who has some experience in the field of fundraising or expedition planning, etc. Others are just not at that same place…yet! But I think in a year’s time, they will also be up for the challenge.

I’ve condensed my hours at school, so that I have more time for the project and over the next 6 months (less than!), I need to raise a total of around £200,000 in order to send the kids on their expeditions to 9 different countries this summer.  I also need to apply for general project funds, and get our books written and other things organised. As well as applying for funds for my geography teaching.

Sadly, everything has ended up at the last minute as usual, so I’ll have to spend the first of my dedicated Oceans Project days preparing my geography lessons for the week ahead, something that I knew would happen and which I was stressing about.  But it has happened, and I’m just going to get on with it and do the best I can.  School have been brilliant with me and made a lot of changes at extra work for themselves, so I can’t complain too much.  I just hope that things remain fairly planned with not too many last minute chores over the term.

I’m pretty sure that no one really gets what responsibility I have as Founder and Director of the project, or just how much work I have to do, and is probably why people don’t understand when I freak out at last minute things or my waiting on decisions from others, or having long conversations, only for people to totally change their mind five minutes later. So that is the reason why I need to start leading from the front, rather than my more comfortable position of leading from behind. Any muck ups are on my head, not others, so I need to do the job well and to very high standards as it is not just my reputation at stake, but the reputations of others outside of Georgia who are also putting their names and money towards the project.

Earthwatch and ETE

It was great to come back to Georgia, only to discover that our interview from London in November, had now been released in the Earthwatch enewsletter.  You can read it here:

Also we are about to go live on the ETE (Education through Expeditions) website, as I am now an Educational Ambassador for them.  So things are looking up, and we have lots of publicity and interviews lined up over the next few months which will hopefully help us to raise the money for the kids to go on their expeditions. So, I need to make sure that I represent not just our Project but also the other organisations in the best possible way I can.  That is a responsibility which I think the others don’t really comprehend as yet, as they don’t see what happens behind the scenes. Even more fantastic was to see the BBC Oceans guys and other people, re-tweeting our updates and news and things, and showing their support for the project.  That kind of support is just priceless and means so much to me.

So, my plan is to throw everything at the project from now on, and to not throw as much energy at the Geography teaching or other things, as they are not within my control as much as Oceans Project is.  That is not to say that I won’t be making an effort with the geography teaching…far from it in fact.  I’ve still got plans for my lessons and will be basing them on Wagrain where we were in Austria, and using the ETE package to make lessons more fun.  What I mean is, I won’t be dropping my plans at the last minute or spending all my time on geography now, as my first priority and most stable job wise in the long term, is my Project and it deserves a lot more input that it received last term, especially with so many kids (almost 80 of them), relying on me for raising the money now.

I still need to plan ahead though, and once the pilot project finishes, I plan to start a second group from Mid September, only this one will hopefully have an added element as I really want to involve children from other countries, especially from around the Black Sea.  If I can get the Oceans Project workbook finished and get the BBC to agree to launch a pack that combines the workbook and DVD perhaps, then I’d like to offer a video conference session with Black Sea basin countries so that the kids can all participate in the Saturday sessions together, then perhaps meet face to face on Earthwatch expeditions, or maybe even an Easter camp where they do their snorkel training together, and that we can assess them for their Duke of Edinburgh International Award.

I’d still love to do a zoo based project, but the reality of being in Georgia means that I’ll get frustrated as things will happen too slowly and people won’t really get the whole plan or benefits of participating, and I really need to just work with people who get what I’m trying to achieve and have the education and bringing the kids together at the heart of that, rather than what is in it for them in terms of finance or whatever, with me doing most of the leg work. Yes, we need to be a business and sustainable, but I’m not out for a profit or to get rich, its about the environmental education and the rewards of seeing these kids do amazing things with their lives and seeing them happy and overcoming the challenges they face.

I’m really excited about the future of the Oceans Project, and that is to be my focus again, 110% as there is too much riding on us to mess about and waste time with other things. Its time to delegate and if people are not up to scratch then I need to make things work, no matter what it takes.  Its going to be tough, but I have to be the Skipper now rather than try to please everyone or worry about people’s opinions of me. Let’s see what the next 6 months throws at us!!!!



About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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